Mark Murphy, Solar Productions CEO, is an accomplished director, writer, filmmaker and production designer, having trained at the ARTTS International film and television school. It was there that he met his role model John Sichel, the founder of the school, who was also a director and collaborator of great actors including Laurence Olivier.
This article will explore the different routes to becoming a movie or television director, outlining the skills and mentality required to be successful in the film industry.
Film directors coordinate production sets, making all of the important decisions and directing cast and crew. A great director brings a script to life by guiding the project’s artistic and dramatic elements. In order to acquire such an important role, it is essential for aspiring directors to spend a great deal of time developing their skills and learning their craft.
Movie and television directors lead creative and technical production teams, meeting producers to map out filming schedules and develop ideas and scripts for movies and television programmes. Part of the role of director may involve developing storyboards. They strategise how the production should be filmed and what the final cut should look like. Directors also play an important role in hiring the cast and crew, directing actors, explaining technical requirements to teams and supervising editing.
The director is a project’s creative lead, with their vision and storytelling skills bringing characters to life and moulding the finished piece. Directors oversee individuals at virtually every level of the film crew hierarchy. They are usually hired by the producer during the project’s preproduction phase.
Directors work closely with heads of department, communicating the overall creative vision for the movie. They need to constantly oversee various different aspects of production. During the preproduction phase, the director also needs to make critical choices in terms of casting, rehearsals, scheduling and location.
A director’s work can be incredibly varied, taking them to film or television studios, or indeed, on location anywhere in the world. Directors often spend time filming outdoors and may find themselves spending long periods working away from home.
Interested candidates have various avenues available in terms of becoming a director. A common route is taking a university or college course, or a specialist course presented by private training providers. Aspiring directors typically work towards the role by producing and releasing their own movies or television programmes. Studying subjects like drama, English and theatre studies can also be very useful.
College courses that may help students to build the requisite practical skills and establish industry contacts include:
- Level 3 Diploma in Performing and Production Arts
- Level 3 Diploma in Film and Television Production
- Level 3 Extended Diploma in Creative and Digital Media
- T Level in Media, Broadcast and Production
Many directors begin their careers as runners, helping on television or film sets, and working their way up through the ranks, serving as floor manager or 3rd or 2nd assistant director, etc. Others move into directing after gaining experience of other aspects of the filmmaking business, such as camera work, acting or screenwriting.
For those interested in directing, it is important to gain as much experience of television and film as possible, building an in-depth understanding of the production process. This can be achieved through participating in activities like community or student television productions or films, or finding work experience placements on movie projects. Media business listing services like The Knowledge and PACT can help students to search for television and film companies to approach.
Other ways to break into television and film directing including making films known as ‘shorts’. These can be posted online, marketed to agents or entered in film competitions and festivals. To produce their own films, the director will need access to equipment, actors and crew. Getting involved with community filming projects can be an effective means of achieving this. Prospective directors can also take short courses in production skills presented by private training providers, regional screen agencies and film schools.
To be successful, directors need a variety of different soft and hard skills, first among them a passion for filmmaking. The role of director is incredibly demanding, often requiring years of hard work to get their lucky break.
Directors need leadership and communication skills, script literacy, an understanding of acting and technical know-how.
A formal education in film is not strictly necessary to become a director. Indeed, many of the world’s most celebrated directors have made it without a film degree. However, studying at film school does offer a variety of different benefits, helping students to understand the mechanics of filming shot-by-shot.
Top film schools in the UK include:
- London Film School
- National Film and Television School
- Leeds Beckett University
- Arts University Bournemouth